Central application integration teams expected to proliferate

A growing number of large corporations are finding an effective, sensible means of untangling their application integration "spaghetti" mess: creating central teams to do the untangling.

At its Application Integration and Web Services Conference here last week, Gartner Inc. said it expects more than 25% of large enterprises to forge central integration competency centers during the next three years, in addition to the 25% that have already done so.

But companies that elect to take that approach to lessen development time and reduce redundant technologies may find that they will also need some time to smooth out the prickly turf battles that may emerge as they try to shift a responsibility that has traditionally fallen to their application development groups.

"You're talking about changing the IS organization, so you're creating winners and losers," said Gartner analyst Roy Schulte. "The hardest thing to do is stop thinking of integration as part of a particular project and start thinking of this project as part of the enterprise system of systems."

Ken Dschankilic, manager of integration architecture at Canadian Tire Corp. in Toronto and a presenter at last week's conference, told a packed audience that the biggest organizational issue his company's core competency center faced was educating senior management and the application teams about "why we should exist."

"The mind-set there was we were intruding on application development, as opposed to providing value," he said.

But the integration group has been gradually building converts since its first project, which involved populating product data into a Manugistics Inc. application. By the time the second project rolled around, Dschankilic could tell the programmer group that half the required development was done, thanks to his center's prior work.

Yet even after five years in existence, the core competency center still encounters some pockets of resistance. Dschankilic said one application team that "despises" his group and its technology built a point-to-point interface "under the covers."

So Dschankilic computed how much time and money had been spent building that interface, since his group already had the interface in its inventory. Once that was determined, he said, "their management team said, 'You know, we've got a problem here.' "Now Dschankilic's group gets involved in the system development cycle to try to nip those sorts of problems in the bud. Dschankilic also sits on a recently formed technology review committee, along with a technical architect and an application architect, to oversee new application projects.

"The application team should be delivering functionality to their end users, not worried about the plumbing underneath," Dschankilic said. He advised his peers to tell their application development teams that integration teams aren't "replacing their jobs, but making their life easier."

Schulte said Gartner has been recommending for at least three years that companies create an enterprise integration competency center. It has taken six years for about 25% of large enterprises to do so, he said.

But Schulte expects the pace to pick up considerably during the next three years, as more companies purchase integration brokers. Gartner predicted that more than 50% of all large enterprises-companies with $1 billion or more in revenue-will have an integration competency center by the end of 2005.

Derek Gee, a vice president at Ameriquest Mortgage Co. in Orange, Calif., said his firm's new CIO ordered the creation of one after he spotted developers building the same functionality into separate applications. "Because we're in the beginning stages of implementing a new strategic architecture, my concern is that this is going to add development time," he said. "I need to sell them on the long-term benefits of what this architecture's going to give them."

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